NFL Conference Standings & Playoff Scenarios Week 17

Below are the current conference standings in the NFL along with the Week 17 playoff scenarios.  I will attempt to explain the scenarios for the 6th seed in the AFC as eloquently and succinctly as possible.  You may also note a fundamental change in assumptions when I lay out the projected TV schedule for wildcard weekend; while I have not seen confirmation of this anywhere, I am proceeding under the hunch that the NFL let NBC have both games in the Dallas v NY Giants matchup this season while making a deal with Fox that Fox would get the NFC East winner involved wildcard game.  It was the only true “win and in” game on the schedule that is not potentially affected by other games, so it was the logical game to move to NBC.  If it had not been this game it could’ve been Baltimore at Cincinnati, but even it could have been rendered moot by about 5 other games all breaking a certain way.  You will also notice this post does not have the TV maps for Week 17; as of 5 minutes ago was not updated with that information yet; when it is I will either append that info to this post or make a separate posting.  All 16 games are on Sunday and both CBS & Fox will have doubleheaders.  Without further preamble, here is the playoff picture, starting in the AFC:

1. New England (clinched bye seed) (12-3)

2. Baltimore (clinched playoff spot) (11-4) (head-to-head tiebreaker on Pittsburgh)

3. Houston (clinched #3 seed) (10-5)

4. Denver (8-7) (record in common games tiebreaker with Oakland for division rank)

5. Pittsburgh (11-4)

6. Cincinnati (9-6)

Pittsburgh @ Denver Saturday January 7th at 8pm on NBC (Al Michaels & Cris Collinsworth). Cincinnati @ Houston Sunday January 8th at 1pm on CBS (Jim Nantz & Phil Simms). Lower winning seed @ New England Saturday January 14th at 8pm on CBS (Jim Nantz & Phil Simms). Higher winning seed @ Baltimore Sunday January 15th at 1pm on CBS (Greg Gumbel & Dan Dierdorf)

In the Hunt

7. Oakland (8-7) (strength of victory tiebreaker on Tennessee & New York)

8. Tennessee (record against opponents common with New York)

9. New York

Mathematically Eliminated

10. San Diego (7-8)

11. Buffalo (6-9) (head-to-head tiebreaker on Kansas City)

12. Kansas City

13. Miami (5-10)

14. Cleveland (4-11) (head-to-head tiebreaker on Jacksonville)

15. Jacksonville

16. Indianapolis (2-13)

There are 4 battles in the AFC this week: the fight for the last wildcard spot, the fight for the AFC West title, the fight for the North title and a bye seed, and for the #1 seed.  The battles for the #6 seed and for the West title & #4 seed are the most important, and to a certain degree interwoven.  Let’s look at the #6 seed situation first:

Cincinnati has a one game lead going into the final game, so for them its rather simple; a win or a tie at home against Baltimore and they have it.  Oakland, Tennessee, and New York are alive if the Bengals lose, and there are certain combinations of ties that work, and don’t work, for all of those teams.  First a quick lesson on tiebreaking procedures outside a division.  If you have a 3 or 4 team tie, and all of the involved teams did not play each other, you go thru a progression, starting with conference record.  If one team has a better record, they win.  On the other hand, if one (or 2) teams have a worse record, they are dropped, then you start from scratch with the remaining tied teams, going back to head-to-head and forward from there.  If Cincinnati loses Sunday, their conference record would be 6-6.  If New York or Oakland or Tennessee win on Sunday, their conference records would be 7-5, so in multi-team ties the Bengals are dropped and you start from scratch.  Adding another level of complexity is that Oakland can still win the West division if they have a better Sunday than Denver.  So here are the scenarios, who wins, and why:

Cincinnati, Oakland, Tennessee, and New York are all 9-7:  The Bengals are dropped due to a weaker conference record.  Oakland wins the 3-way tie based on a superior “strength of victory” as the teams they have defeated over the course of the season have a better combined record.  Entering this week by my math Oakland’s advantage is +6 wins on New York (playing an opponent with two more wins) and +7 on Tennessee (playing an opponent with 2 fewer wins).  That is too large an advantage to be erased by the final day’s outcomes around the NFL, so Oakland wins this tie.

Cincinnati, Oakland, & New York are all 9-7: Again the Bengals conference record drops them.  Then Oakland beat New York head-to-head, so the Raiders have this tie.

Cincinnati, Oakland, & Tennessee are all 9-7: The Bengals are dropped because of their conference record.  Tennessee wins this tie with Oakland on record against common opponents; by beating Houston in Week 17 the Titans would be 4-1 in those games vs 3-2 for Oakland.

Cincinnati, Tennessee, & New York are all 9-7: Drop the Bengals.  Tennessee also wins this tie on record against common opponents, again with a margin of 4-1 vs 3-2.

Cincinnati & Oakland are 9-7: Oakland on conference record

Cincinnati & New York are 9-7: This is the only combination that works for New York, again on conference record.

Cincinnati & Tennessee are 9-7: This is the Bengals back door scenario; if New York loses and Oakland either loses or wins the West the Bengals defeated Tennessee and win a head-to-head tie with the Titans.  Or of course if everyone loses and the Bengals are alone at 9-7 that works for them.

As I alluded to above, teams that need Oakland to NOT be a part of a certain tie have two ways to achieve that.  They can have the Raiders lose or tie their game with San Diego.  Or, they can have the Raiders win & by doing so win the West division.  Obviously, if they win the West they’re not in the wildcard situation.  To win the West Oakland must finish ahead of Denver, who they enter the week tied with, due to Denver having a 1 game advantage against common opponents.

As far as the North division and a bye seed, and the #1 overall seed in the AFC are concerned, those have many fewer moving parts and are therefor very straightforward.  Baltimore wins a tie with Pittsburgh on head-to-head sweep, so the Steelers must have a better weekend than the Ravens.  The Patriots have the #1 seed if they win or tie.  However, if they lose and the Ravens win Baltimore wins this tie on strength of victory; the Ravens advantage is an iron-clad +12.  If the Patriots lose and Pittsburgh wins and wins the North, the Steelers have this tie on head-to-head.

Now for the NFC:

1. Green Bay (clinched #1 seed) (14-1)

2. San Francisco (clinched division) (12-3) (conference record on New Orleans)

3. New Orleans (clinched division) (12-3)

4. New York (8-7) (head-to-head tiebreaker on Dallas)

5. Detroit (10-5)

6. Atlanta (9-6)

Atlanta @ New Orleans Saturday January 7th at 4:30pm on NBC (Tom Hammond & Mike Mayock).  Detroit @ New York Sunday January 8th at 4:30pm on Fox (Joe Buck & Troy Aikman). Higher winning seed @ San Francisco Saturday January 14th at 4:30pm on Fox (Kenny Albert, Moose, & Goose).  Lower winning seed @ Green Bay Sunday January 15th at 4:30pm on Fox (Joe Buck & Troy Aikman).

In the Hunt

7. Dallas (8-7) (alive in NFC East race only)

Mathematically Eliminated

8. Seattle (7-8) ([head-to-head on Arizona for division rank] head-to-head-to-head on Philadelphia & Chicago)

9. Chicago (conference record drops Philadelphia from tie, then record against opponents common with Arizona)

10. Arizona (head-to-head on Philadelphia)

11. Philadelphia

12. Carolina (6-9)

13. Washington (5-10)

14. Tampa Bay (4-11)

15. Minnesota (3-12)

16. St. Louis (2-13)

The competitive races in the NFC are for who wins the East and gets the #4 seed, who gets the #2 seed and the bye that goes with, and to sort out who is seeded 5th & 6th.  All of these races are between two teams and very straightforward.  New York & Dallas are tied and playing each other this Sunday night; the Giants won the first meeting and can therefor afford a tie game whereas Dallas must win.  San Francisco has a better conference record than New Orleans and therefor gets the #2 by beating St. Louis Sunday; the Saints need to have a better Sunday than the 49ers to jump in front.  Detroit has a 1 game lead on Atlanta for the #5 seed but if the Lions lose at Green Bay and Atlanta beats Tampa, the Falcons jump in front based on a head-to-head victory.  Normally I would tell both teams to not sweat that detail too much, but this year I see a definite advantage in being #5 and playing the “winner” of the East as opposed to being #6 and facing a trip to New Orleans or San Francisco in the wildcard round.

In summary, the AFC is the more interesting conference to watch this week, particularly in the late afternoon when the 4 AFC North and AFC West games will be played.  Below are the official playoff scenarios from



Green Bay Packers — North Division and home-field advantage through NFC playoffs.

San Francisco 49ers — West Division.

New Orleans Saints — South Division.

Detroit Lions — Wild-card spot.

Atlanta Falcons — Wild-card spot.


Arizona, Carolina, Minnesota, Philadelphia, Seattle, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Washington, Chicago.


San Francisco clinches a first-round bye with:

1) SF win

2) SF tie + NO loss or tie

3) NO loss


New Orleans clinches a first-round bye with:

1) NO win + SF loss or tie

2) NO tie + SF loss


Giants clinch NFC East Division with:

1) NYG win or tie


Dallas clinches NFC East Division with:

1) DAL win



New England Patriots — East Division and a first-round bye.

Houston Texans — South Division.

Baltimore Ravens — Wild-card spot.

Pittsburgh Steelers — Wild-card spot.


Buffalo, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Indianapolis, Miami, San Diego


New England clinches home-field advantage throughout AFC playoffs with:

1) NE win or tie

2) BAL loss or tie + PIT loss or tie


Baltimore clinches AFC North Division and a first-round bye with:

1) BAL win

2) BAL tie + PIT loss or tie

3) PIT loss

Baltimore clinches home-field advantage throughout AFC playoffs with:

1) BAL win + NE loss


Pittsburgh clinches AFC North Division and a first-round bye with:

1) PIT win + BAL loss or tie

2) PIT tie + BAL loss

Pittsburgh clinches home-field advantage throughout AFC playoffs  with:

1) PIT win + BAL loss or tie + NE loss


Denver clinches AFC West Division with:

1) DEN win

2) DEN tie + OAK loss or tie

3) OAK loss


Oakland clinches AFC West Division with:

1) OAK win + DEN loss or tie

2) OAK tie + DEN loss

Oakland clinches a wild-card spot with:

1) OAK win + CIN loss + TEN loss or tie

2) OAK win + CIN loss + NYJ win


Cincinnati clinches a wild-card spot with:

1) CIN win or tie

2) NYJ loss or tie + OAK loss or tie

3) NYJ loss or tie + DEN loss or tie


Jets clinch a wild-card spot with:

1) NYJ win + CIN loss + TEN loss or tie + OAK loss or tie

2) NYJ win + CIN loss + TEN loss or tie + DEN loss or tie


Tennessee clinches a wild card spot with:

1) TEN win + CIN loss + NYJ win + OAK loss or tie

2) TEN win + CIN loss + NYJ win + DEN loss or tie

3) TEN win + CIN loss + NYJ loss or tie + OAK win + DEN win


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